Opinion: 25 years later and a flood-prone bridge hasn’t been replaced

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

It’s sad leaders of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto haven’t replaced the Pope-Chaucer Bridge over San Francisquito Creek that caused a massive flood 25 years ago.

After the flood, which damaged thousands of homes, three cities came together to form a joint powers authority to prevent flooding, but it focused most of its work east of Highway 101. The bridge remained.

When attention turned to the two troublesome bridges north of Highway 101 — Newell Road and Pope-Chaucer — the lawsuits from neighbors started. And others chimed in, asking for beautiful spans or a natural look to the creek walls.

And the Palo Alto city government’s behavior regarding the Pope-Chaucer Bridge has been down right bizarre.

In 1999, about two dozen families sued Palo Alto and Menlo Park to have the bridge removed.

The lawsuit, brought by attorney John Hanna who lives in the Crescent Park neighborhood, claimed the cities were warned before the 1998 flood about the danger the bridge posed, and did nothing about it.

The two cities put the case into arbitration, which occurs behind closed doors. Why would issues involving land-use and flooding have to be litigated in secret?

The other odd thing was that the cities settled the suit by paying the families a combined $3.5 million but not replacing the bridges.

The plaintiffs didn’t want the money, they wanted the cities to fix the problem.

The response by the cities and their joint powers authority has been incredibly slow since then.

On Sept. 17, 1999, I wrote an editorial that said in part:

It’s been 19 months since the flood, and little has happened and certainly no work has taken place …

Yet in those 19 months, the Santa Clara Valley Water District managed to build a $18 million, 100,000-square-foot office building for its staff at 5750 Almaden Expressway in San Jose.

The water district, which collects property taxes to pay for flood protection, is one of the government agencies that is a part of a Joint Powers Authority that will try to solve the creek problems. Other members of the JPA include the cities of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

The JPA will tour the creek on Saturday and hold a meeting to elect its officers on Thursday.

We wish there was more urgency in this process. More should have happened in the past 19 months than the election of officers to a JPA board or the construction of an office building.

We wish somebody — perhaps an elected official — would crack the whip and get this process moving faster. Nobody, it seems, has a fire in their belly that makes them want to solve this problem now — except for the homeowners who are suing.”

Here we are, 25 years after the big flood, and we’re still waiting for this problem to get fixed.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

4 Comments

  1. You’ve got this all wrong. City Council has other priorities than replacing these bridges. Like banning drinking straws, banning plastic produce bags at the grocery store and ripping out natural gas lines and overloading an already faulty city electrical grid. Virtue signalling and wokeness are more important than something mundane like flood prevention.

  2. Indeed you’ve got it wrong. The city’s more worried about mindfulness, traffic “calming” and publishing recipes than our safety. They certainly didn’t want people showing up for their post-mortem with city staff on their response to the floods and asking questioms they’d have to follow up on! Why else would they have delayed the notice of the meeting until just before and just AFTER the meeting started.

    Time to give them another raise and another utility rate hike so they can keep giving themselves raises.

  3. Instead of pointing to their official city council pages, the SFC JPA website (sfcjpa dot org slash jpa-board-of-directors) points to campaign websites and other pages that promote the members of the board of directors.

  4. The creek JPA isn’t getting anything done. It’s just a way to expand the bureaucracy. Too bad all this talk, and these lawsuits and studies can’t be translated into real flood prevention work.

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